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Maldives customs stop illegal export of coconut palms

The trees were allegedly uprooted for export to Abu Dhabi.



The Maldives Customs Service stopped Thursday the illegal export of coconut palm trees from the Maafaru island in Noonu atoll.

Maafaru islanders alerted customs after the Environment Protection Agency stopped the illegal uprooting of trees from the island.

Photos of palm trees removed before the EPA intervention and loaded on a barge emerged on social media last week. It was alleged to have been packed for export to Abu Dhabi.

The Maafaru airport is financed by the Abu Dhabi Fund as a “gift from United Arab Emirates.” The project began after a member of the UAE royal family purchased the Cheval Blanc Randheli resort near Maafaru.  

“We cannot confirm if the palm trees were being taken to Abu Dhabi, but we’ve requested the police to investigate this,” a spokeswoman from the environment ministry told the Maldives Independent.

“We’ve asked the police and the island council to look into it.”

The Maafaru island council’s vice president downplayed the number of trees removed.

“Now, some people have sold their own palm trees. They’ve sold around 18 palm trees. The council wasn’t told this information, they sold it while it was on airport site, and someone expressed interest in it,”  Zakariyya Mohamed Fulhu told the Maldives Independent.

“I don’t know to say which company they were sold to, there are multiple companies there.”

According to media reports, an American consultant working on the airport project enlisted two locals to remove 300 palm trees. About 40 trees were transported on vehicles provided by the airport contractor Tuff Offshore before the EPA took action. 

“They took palm trees from different areas, some of the areas they did not have permission to uproot trees from,” an island source told Avas“They didn’t have the permission to uproot trees and transport it outside of the island.”

Permits were required from the EPA and agriculture ministry for the uprooting and export of the trees.

Maafaru islanders believed the trees were to be replanted at the airport site but grew suspicious when they saw the trunks were covered in canvass.

A source familiar with the matter told Mihaaru that the trees were loaded on the barge to be taken to a UAE cargo ship that arrived with material for the airport.

The trees have since been removed from the barge and returned to the airport site.

Last week, the EPA announced it was investigating the removal of trees and coconut palms from inhabited islands to be used for landscaping multi-million dollar tourism developments.

After concluding a probe into the unauthorised removal of more than 500 palm trees on Lhaimagu island, the EPA ordered the council Thursday to replant the trees.

According to environmental regulations, the EPA’s permission is required to uproot more than 10 palm trees. An environment impact assessment must be conducted for the removal of more than 200 palm trees.

The EPA has been under fire from environmentalists for failure to take action over numerous complaints and reports from the public.